You’ve heard it all a thousand times. Rappers and producers using samples are unoriginal and lazy. Electronic musicians make soulless robot music. No one has made real music since the ‘70s.
Yeah, fuck that.
With Communikey Festival 2012 in full swing and Program Council throwing a huge electronic and hip-hop show on Saturday, music purists have been on my mind. People assume that as a music journalist, I’m also a music purist, but that’s totally illogical. I love music, which means I’ll give anything a chance. What makes something good or bad has nothing to do with how it was made, only how it sounds.
We don’t all have to agree on a universal standard of what good music sounds like. If you prefer rock ‘n’ roll and just don’t have a taste for hip hop, that’s fine. What makes my eye burst into a twitching fit — or if I’ve had a few drinks, what will set me off into a slightly slurred rant — is when someone dismisses a genre as a whole as “not real music.”
The usual reasoning goes like this: “Man, no one makes music with their hands anymore. There’s nothing creative about using a machine or sampling someone else’s stuff. What happened to the musicians we had in the ‘60s and ‘70s?”
Let’s tackle the easy part first. If you’ve ever watched a live performance involving something other than guitars, bass and drums, it’s pretty clear the musicians are still working hard, using their hands and feet. Fingers fly furiously over keyboards and elaborate tap dances happen on top of pedals.
But the real nonsense in the standard purist rant is that it reveals a whole lot of cluelessness about music history. Electronic experimentation was just revving up in that golden age of music everyone (very rightfully) worships.
It wasn’t just the avant stuff you’ve never heard of. It was The Beatles. It was Pink Floyd. They were changing music with every album, and that didn’t happen by turning their noses up at electronics.
Back then, it was all about playing with tapes. The Beatles most famously used sped-up tape loops on “Tomorrow Never Knows,” reversed vocal tapes on songs like “Blue Jay Way” and used artificial double tracking on Revolver.
Then there are the samples on songs like “Yellow Submarine.” Maybe it’s not the pinnacle of Beatles achievement, but the fact remains they chopped up and used a John Philip Sousa march. “All You Need Is Love” is another pretty obvious example, with sampling from “La Marseillaise.” And “Revolution No. 9?” Love it or hate it, that song was breaking barriers.
As for Pink Floyd, they were using tape loops and synthesizers all over the place, particularly on The Dark Side of the Moon. Again, there’s an obvious example: the tape loops on “Money.” Really, it should be apparent to anyone that there are synthesizers on this album, but I dig a little research (via Googling, since Roger Waters isn’t responding to my texts today) for backup. Pink Floyd was using a few machines on The Dark Side of the Moon, including an EMS VCS 3 and a Synthi A.
Yes, I looked up a lot of this while I was writing. My brain is not an encyclopedic wonder and I can’t confirm these things first hand. (Seriously, Paul, are you mad at me? Call me.) But part of the point is that we know this sort of thing was going on. Implying that the best musicians don’t want or need electronics means you’re either uninformed or willfully ignoring facts.
So sampling and synthesizers got picked up by hip hop and purely electronic music, and suddenly it’s not OK? You don’t have to like hip hop, but insulting the way it’s made just doesn’t make sense.
Creed was all “real” instruments — and also terrible. The Roots use samples all the time and they’re considered one of the best groups in hip hop. And you know what? It’s OK to like Daft Punk’s “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” and Kanye’s “Stronger.” The difference between good and bad music in not inextricably linked to how it was made.
I guess what I’m saying is, for once, hate the player, not the game.
Afterthought: There are a lot of videos like this floating around on YouTube. Whether or not you like Girl Talk, it’s pretty clear time, effort, and creativity go into making this music.